Posted by: adorsk | February 24, 2009

Port Stop in Lyttelton II: Trains & Rugby

The Thompson had 8 days in Lyttelton before the next cruise.

Train Ride to the West Coast

I took advantage of the long port stop and went to the West coast with my shipmates IG and MC.  We went to the town of Greymouth on the West Coast of the South island via the TranzAlpine, a train that cuts through the New Zealand alps.

The train left Christchurch and went into the broad plains surrounding the city.  The air was cool and the sky overcast.  Sheep and cows dotted the plains.  They looked like packing peanuts that had been scattered over the landscape. From the train’s open-air observation car I watched the approaching mountains.

IG and the TranzAlpine

IG and the TranzAlpine

IG & MC on the train

IG & MC on the train

the Canterbury plains

the Canterbury plains outside of Christchurch

Soon the train entered the mountains, winding between the ashy peaks, passing over high viaducts, and clattering through tunnels.  As the train neared Arthur’s Pass in the middle of the mountains the temperature dropped significantly and there was a persistent needling rain. It made the the air look like it was filled with television static.

the train heads into the mountains

the train heads into the mountains

The rain seemed to swell the mountains to bursting.  I saw waterfalls spraying out of the mountainsides as if the mountains had sprung leaks.  The waterfalls flowed into blue-grey rivers, and eventually into the forests and seas of the West coast.

rivers in the mountains

rivers in the mountains

As the train descended down the other side of the mountains the sun came out.  The scenery had changed from alpine shrubs to tropical forest.  There were palm trees and giant ferns.  The train skirted along the Grey river (which looked more brown than grey) and arrived in Greymouth.

the train near the Grey river

the train near the Grey river

In Greymouth we met up with tour guide S who took us to a nearby canyon to hunt for glow worms.  A glow worm is a species of fly whose larvae glow in they dark.  Glow worms especially like moist caves near rivers.

S took us down to the bottom of the canyon.  The canyon walls were sheer, high, and festooned with ferns.  A brown river flowed along the base of the walls. S set us up with wet suits, helmets, and inner tubes, and then set us floating down a river.

It was great fun.  The river zipped us around, pulling us through waterfalls and bumping us into the canyon walls.

me, IG, and MC floating down the river

me, IG, and MC floating down the river

We reached a cave at the bottom of the river and floated in.  There was only dim light from the cave’s entrance and the sound of water dripping.  And glow worms above. In the darkness they looked like stars.  There is a Borges story called ‘The Aleph’ which describes certain places that let people see the entire universe.  That cave was like an Aleph; it seemed to contain an entire galaxy in its ceiling.

floating into the glow worm cave

floating into the glow worm cave

IG, MC, and I stayed the night in Greymouth and caught a bus back to Christchurch the next morning.


The remaining days in port were relatively uneventful, with the exception of a rugby match between the Canterbury Crusaders and the Hurricanes at a nearby stadium.  A bunch of us from the ship went to check it out.

What a spectacle!  I could tell we were in for a show even before the game started.  At midfield there was a giant sword surrounded by torches.  A few minutes before the official game time medieval choral music thundered out of the stadium speakers.  The torches around the sword started to belch fire, and a team of fully-armored knights charged onto the field on black stallions.  When the rugby teams charged onto the field a few minutes later it seemed like an anticlimax.

But there was still more to come.  As the starting lineups formed at midfield I noticed a coast guard helicopter flying close the stadium…and closer.  The helicopter landed in the middle of the field and out popped a small boy who carried the game ball to the referee. Kiwis like their rugby with style.

And then the game started.  I couldn’t make any sense of it.  There was some running, some punting, and quite a bit of mashing.  I could only tell when someone was about to score when guys in the row behind me started shouting ‘GO!, GO!, GO!’ at peak volume.

Eventually I figured out that the Crusaders were losing.  My shipmates and I left just before the game ended, to the jeers of the local fans.  In New Zealand rugby is a serious affair.

Back Out to Sea Again

During the remaining days in port I got ready for the upcoming cruise.  Soon the next science party had arrived and the ship was ready to go.

You can see my photos from the port stop here:



  1. […] Port Stop in Lyttelton II: Trains & Rugby Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)New Zealand SeismologyOne week ’til New ZealandANZ Association for Medieval and Early Modern StudiesIn the Corner of the World – Where hitchhikers are welcome […]

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